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Utah Offensive and Defensive Triplets

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NCAA Football: Foster Farms Bowl-Indiana vs Utah Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Every year the ESPN Pac-12 Blog does a series ranking the Pac-12 teams from 1-12 in offensive and defensive triplets. Below, I have quoted the intro on what constitutes a “triplet” for both offense and defense.

Offense:

These are our annual Pac-12 triplet rankings. We’ve selected a trio of skill players from each team in the conference.

The rules: Each player comes from a different position group, so the offensive version of this series features a quarterback, a running back and a wide receiver. Each program’s troika is ranked against the others in the Pac-12, and we’ll be unveiling and writing about each in reverse order. Remember that this is not an all-inclusive offensive ranking, but rather just each team's triplets.

Note: For teams that haven't selected a starting quarterback, we've kept things open-ended regarding who's competing for the job.

Defense:

These are our annual Pac-12 triplet rankings. We’ve selected a trio of players from each team in the conference.

The rules: Each player comes from a different position group, so the defensive version of this series features a defensive lineman, a linebacker and a defensive back. Each program's troika is ranked against the others in the Pac-12, and we’ll be unveiling and writing about each in reverse-countdown order.

So, where did Utah rank in each of these? Let’s start on offense. The Utes return both players who took every snap at quarterback in 2016 in starter Troy Williams and back up Tyler Huntley. They also added former Alabama quarterback Cooper Bateman as a graduate transfer. With new offensive coordinator Troy Taylor calling the plays, Utah is having an open competition at the quarterback position. At running back, Utah lost Joe Williams to graduation, who after coming back from retirement, had arguably the best stretch of any Utah running back ever. Rising sophomore Zack Moss, who missed several games with injuries, and senior Armand Shyne, who missed half of last season with a knee injury, will likely split carries in the new offense. Sophomore Devonta’e Henry-Cole has also shown promise this spring. At wide receiver, Utah brings back a lot of young talent. They did lose several players including Tim Patrick and Cory Butler-Byrd to graduation. The receiver group is unproven to outside observers but has the potential to be very talented, especially in a more pass-friendly offense.

So, where did the Pac-12 Blog rank Utah? Dead last at No. 12 with uncertainty at quarterback, Moss as the running back, and Raelon Singleton at wide receiver. Personally, I disagree with this ranking. I am admittedly biased, but I think you could make the case for Utah at No. 8. The rankings ahead of Utah are No. 11 Arizona, No. 10 California, No. 9 Oregon State, No. 8 Stanford, and No. 7 UCLA.

Utah actually has one of the better quarterback situations heading into 2017. Troy Williams proved at times last season that he is a good Pac-12 quarterback. A sprained knee against USC slowed him down the stretch. Utah also has another capable quarterback on the roster with Huntley, who could push to start this season. Bateman is a wild card in all this. The bottom line is I would put Utah’s quarterback situation ahead of every team except USC, Washington, Washington State, UCLA, and Oregon heading into 2017. Running back will likely take a slight step back from the production of Joe Williams, but Moss and Shyne are both capable backs.

UCLA, with Josh Rosen at quarterback and Darren Andrews at wide receiver have a more proven triplet than Utah does. Stanford had the second-worst scoring offense in the Pac-12 last season with Christian McCaffrey, but he is now gone. I am not sold on Stanford’s quarterback situation. Stanford’s quarterbacks were poor last season, and Keller Chryst is coming off a serious knee injury. Oregon State has a better running back in Ryan Nall than Utah, but they are unproven at quarterback, and their wide receiver corps is led by Seth Collins, who is not participating in spring football and Jordan Villamin. Singleton performed better last year than both of them, hauling in more receiving yards and touchdowns. Cal is switching offensive schemes and has a huge hole to fill at quarterback with Davis Webb gone. They are better wide receiver than Utah, but are not at quarterback and running back with Vic Enwere. Arizona had the worst offense in the Pac-12 last season. While Utah has some questions on offense, I feel better about their offense than Arizona’s, who is relying on a quarterback (Brandon Dawkins) and running back (Nick Wilson) who could not stay healthy last season, and three of their top wide receivers are gone.

The defense fared better in the rankings but was still only ranked No. 6. Utah has arguably the best defensive lineman in the conference in Lowell Lotulelei. He would start for every other team in the Pac-12. Utah’s linebackers were a bit of a work in progress last season due to inexperience and injuries. However, this season every linebacker is back. Cody Barton led the group in tackles despite missing the last two games of the season. Barton may not end up being the best linebacker on the team this season. I expect big things from Sunia Tauteoli, Kavika Luafatasaga, and Donavan Thompson. This is a group that I think is being vastly underrated. Utah also gets leading tackler Chase Hansen back. If Hansen played for a blue blood program like Michigan or USC, he likely would have been an award candidate last season. He recorded 90 tackles, three interceptions, three forced fumbles, 7.5 tackles for loss, one sack, and two defensive touchdowns. Hansen, heading into his second full season at safety is a budding star. With all this said, I think the Utah defensive triplet should be ranked third behind only Washington (No. 1) and USC (No. 2), and I think there is an argument you could make for the Utes to actually be No. 1. This underrating of Utah is typical though in the preseason.

Pac-12 defenses and secondaries in particular have had a lot of turnover from last season. Many of the best defensive players in the conference last season are gone, so expect some new faces to emerge this year.